Initially developed by Cleve Moler of the University of New Mexico to allow his students access to linear algebra and eigenvector/value software libraries without having to learn FORTRAN. Since then, it has enjoyed widespread use in the applied science industry and academia, particularly in professions that deal majorly in image processing, thanks to its huge focus on numerical operations and graphing. It passed the 1 million users mark in early 2004^{1}.The name 'MATLAB' is a portmanteau of 'matrix laboratory'. It is currently developed and maintained by *Mathworks* who helped commercialize Moler's creation and rewrote it in C.

Sample 3D plot done using MATLAB by Dr. J. Rodal

Some of the tasks MATLAB succeeds most in are: matrix manipulations, plotting of functions, data implementation of algorithms and creating user interfaces. It is also highly adaptable due to its ability to interface with programs written in other languages including C, C++, Java and FORTRAN. In addition, despite its primary use as a numerical computing environment, there is an optional toolbox available which uses the MuPAD symbolic engine to supply this fourth-generation programming language with symbolic computing capabilities as well. MATLAB is most commonly accessed simply by typing MATLAB commands into the command window or executing files containing MATLAB code, with support for both scripts and functions.

In MATLAB, variables are defined using a single equals for assignment, as in many languages. Its typing system is both dynamic, as variables can be assigned without type declaration, and weak, as types are implicitly converted. As new releases came, MATLAB now supports object-orientated programming as well, though its class system is a little different and centers around 'value' and 'reference' classes.

References:

1. Richard Goering, "Matlab edges closer to electronic design automation world," EE Times, 10/04/2004